It was business as usual for Kim Kardashian. On June 12 she’d spent the day fending off tabloid rumors while boyfriend Kanye West was in Switzerland for a performance at Art Basel, the last stop after several weeks of traveling before his album Yeezus debuted June 18. As for the scandal du jour, a report that West had cheated with a model, she wasn’t letting it get to her. “Kim thought it was absurd and dismissed it,” says a friend. And as she sat down to lunch at Sherman Oaks, Calif., eatery Casa Vega with pal Jonathan Cheban and the Keeping Up with the Kardashians cameras in tow, she seemed perfectly relaxed, “smiling,” says an onlooker, “looking really happy.”
Just two days later, however, calm turned to chaos as Kardashian, 32, was rushed to the hospital with complications to her pregnancy and suddenly found herself in labor roughly three weeks before her due date. By then back in L.A., West, 36, canceled work commitments to rush to her side. Watching her deliver, “he was very emotional,” says a source who works with West (one of several of the pair’s confidantes who spoke to PEOPLE on the condition of anonymity to honor their request not to share many details of the birth). After a harrowing night, they welcomed a girl on June 15.
Because of her low weight, Baby K – whose name hadn’t been revealed at press time but who sources said would have the first initial K, just like mom and dad – was put in an incubator to regulate her body temperature, a standard treatment for preemies. While the pair kept close watch over their fragile newborn, the usually vocal Kardashian clan stayed mum. “This was a lot to go through,” says pal Robin Antin, founder of music group GRL, who visited her in the hospital. “I’m sure she was exhausted, but she handled it like a pro.” A day after the birth, mom Kris Jenner still seemed stunned, telling reporters at the Daytime Emmy Awards, “It all happened so fast!”
Despite the scare, by June 17 everything was “good. The baby is the prettiest, tiniest thing with a full head of straight, dark hair, a cute little nose and Kim’s lips,” says a close friend who saw Kardashian after the birth. Adds pal Brittny Gastineau: “She’s beyond beautiful.” As for the new mom, who was due the first week of July (not July 11, as had been reported), “she is a natural mother,” says Antin. “Kanye is so happy. The energy between them was amazing.”
It was a fresh start of sorts for the couple, whose every move has been scrutinized. When they first stepped out in March 2012, critics claimed the romance was an act. Still reeling from the backlash from her 72-day marriage to NBA star Kris Humphries in 2011 – and not yet formally divorced until June 3, 2013 – Kardashian “wanted to revamp her image,” says a source in her circle. Yet, as they took their romance around the world from Paris to Rio de Janeiro, they appeared genuinely in love. And on Dec. 30, when West announced the pregnancy, they seemed to be in a state of blissful shock.
But within months, as they began spending more time apart, the honeymoon looked like it might be over. While West recorded his album in Paris, Kardashian stayed in L.A. to film her show and to begin renovations on an $11 million Bel Air mansion they bought in January. As tabloid headlines declared her “Pregnant and Alone,” she leaned on mom Kris and sisters Kourtney and Khloé for support—especially in March, when she went to the hospital with a stomach infection while West was again out of town.
When they were out together in public, Kardashian seemed uncomfortable with her changing figure, while West often looked grim—possibly, friends say, due to his increasingly antagonistic view of the media. “Kanye doesn’t live his life in the public eye like she does,” says a close Kardashian pal, noting that while West initially appeared on her show without a mic, he opted out of most shoots. “He cherishes his privacy, and if he doesn’t want to be seen somewhere, he’s not.”
Still, friends of the star’s say she’s simply not bothered by the distance – or the gossip. “They were together a lot more than people think,” says her close friend, who says Kardashian spoke to her beau “constantly.” When they were apart, “he’d send her hundreds of roses. He did things every day to show how much he loved her. She didn’t need him waiting on her hand and foot.”
When the urgent call came on June 14, West, who’d just returned from Switzerland hours before, dropped everything to get to the hospital. Spotted walking with Kardashian as she struggled with contractions, he seemed every bit the doting dad-to-be. “They were quiet,” says an onlooker. “Kanye seemed very supportive.” Since Kardashian was dealing with severe swelling, often a sign of the common but potentially dangerous complication preeclampsia (see sidebar), doctors made the decision to deliver the baby early. Through it all, Kardashian kept a brave face. “I don’t think she was scared,” says the pal who visited her in the hospital. “She was just ready.”
By the time she was preparing to be discharged, the happy new mom had barely put her newborn down. “For premature babies with no major complications, it’s very important that they are held close to the mother,” says a source at the hospital. “It helps them gain weight faster.” West, meanwhile – who “hasn’t left her side,” says the Kardashian friend who visited her – was the proudest papa in town. They’ll start planning their next project, a wedding, sooner rather than later. “He definitely wants to marry her,” says the Kanye source. “She doesn’t want another over-the-top wedding,” says the close friend. “She wants to be surrounded by people she loves.” For now, though, adds the pal, “they’re sharing this experience together. This is something they’ve always wanted: the beginning of their family.”